Public Transport Vs Private Transport
Most of us know using public transport is better for the environment and can even offer a cheaper and quicker route. But in reality the number of cars on the road is continuing to rise. So what is it that’s stopping people from ditching the more expensive not to mention less green, private forms of transport that we see on the road? We look at the pros and cons of both forms of getting from A to B…
Public Transport – A Greener Form of TravelIf you want to do your bit for the environment, getting public transport and leaving the car at home is one of the most straightforward things to do. As you will see below, it can be more convenient, quicker, and cheaper to do so. And the green benefits are great too. Car journeys contribute a significant amount of our overall carbon footprint. According to the Energy Saving Trust nearly half of us use a car to drive short journeys, journeys that could otherwise be completed in another, more sustainable way.
ConvenientThe great thing about public transport is that it gets you where you want to be, when you want to be there, particularly in cities and towns. Rather than only being able to drive to a certain point before getting stuck in a one way system, you can reach your central point directly. Plus you get the bonus of sitting back, relaxing with a newspaper and letting someone else do the driving.
QuickerDespite their tendency to get delayed at times, in the majority of instances, your journey from A to B will be quick and often direct as more and more investment is made into new train, tram and bus routes across the UK.
CheaperContrary to popular belief, nearly all forms of public transport pose less of a cost to the traveller. If you’re regularly visiting a place, or planning a trip in advance, you can get season tickets or advance booked tickets for a cheaper price. The cost of running a car goes much further than the mere cost of petrol, which in itself can be very expensive in the UK. Getting on public transport means no congestion charges, car insurance and tax costs, plus eradicates the expense of maintaining your car to a high standard.
No ParkingOne of the most frustrating things about driving a car or motorbike is the hunt for a parking space once you arrive at your destination. Parking is often scarce, and usually expensive. The bonus of getting on public transport is being able to alight and nothing else. Parking can often add extra time to your driving journey.
Public Transport – ConsOn the other hand, public transport hasn’t always had the best of reputations. According to government survey, many cite the following reasons for not using a public transport option more often:
- Ticket prices are rising
- Poor customer service
- Rush hour inconvenience
- Delays and unreliability
Private Transport – Not Clean or GreenThe downside to public transport means that cars and motorbikes can, at times, be more flexible and offer an easier form of travel in the eyes of the commuter or traveller. However the green credentials are far less than attractive for anyone wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. And on the whole, there is a realistic public transport alternative to driving. The biggest challenge is changing our preconceptions.
According to a survey commissioned by the Energy Saving Trust, we drive on more unnecessary journeys then most other European nations, an extra three billion miles compared to the French. Even trying out a train or bus even once or twice a week – be it to the supermarket or the shops – will reduce this carbon footprint.
You might also like...
Adamrobertk - Your Question:
This is why I choose my car over public transport.Getting to work for 7am and leaving at 3pm (average times, used public for 5 years, car for 2)Public transport - 5 minute walk to bus stop, 20 minute bus to the town center, 10 minute wait, 20 minute bus to near my work, 10 minute walk to work. 65 minutesLeaving at 3 - 10 minute walk to bus stop, 20 minutes to town, 15 minute wait for connection, 20 minutes to near home, 5 minute walk - 70 minutesCar - 20 minutes to work30 minutes home after work.Total public transport time - 2 hours 15 minutesCar - 55 minutesIf public transport can reduce that time difference to under 1 hour 20 mins and improve reliability, I'll happily take public transport as the cost saving makes it viable. However the extra time saved by the car across all journeys makes it way more practical.
Our Response:Yes, unless you live in or around London, or in the middle of another major city, public transport is not usually feasible simply because of the time it takes, the availability of it at all and the lack of reliability. (Sometimes it's actually more expensive too).
EnergySavingSecrets - 1-Nov-17 @ 1:46 PM
Adamrobertk - 30-Oct-17 @ 6:15 PM
EvaPilot1 - Your Question:
I have to question where you say it's cheaper to ride the bus. It might have been that way before, and it definitely makes sense that it should be cheaper with economies of scale, but £5.60 a day to get to work and back is ridiculous.
Our Response:You're right, public transport is becoming more expensive especially if you put a cost on your own time (it's rarely quicker than a car unless there's a bus stop right outside your house). We will take a look at the article soon and make revisions if necessary.
EnergySavingSecrets - 27-Jul-17 @ 2:31 PM
EvaPilot1 - 25-Jul-17 @ 8:10 AM
San - 20-Apr-17 @ 5:18 PM
Mikeo - 11-Jan-17 @ 10:06 PM
kaki - 26-Sep-16 @ 8:53 AM
al - 26-Aug-16 @ 12:25 PM
Chan - 8-Aug-16 @ 8:39 AM
n a - 3-Aug-16 @ 11:15 PM
al - 12-Jul-16 @ 1:58 PM
Blue - 7-Jun-16 @ 9:44 AM
pawan - 25-Dec-15 @ 1:31 AM
EnergySavingSecrets - 23-Oct-14 @ 10:17 AM
yy - 21-Oct-14 @ 8:45 AM
ChrisC - 23-Dec-13 @ 12:35 PM
Real Madrid - 16-Mar-13 @ 10:28 PM
Radcircles - 16-Mar-13 @ 10:25 PM
Lynn - 1-Feb-13 @ 10:48 PM
Vera - 29-Jan-13 @ 11:24 AM
pita - 4-Dec-12 @ 4:31 PM
A great deal of the discourse about cities in recent years has revolved around issues involving public vs. private. This has sometimes been a useful and illuminating conversation. Too often, however, the conversation descends almost immediately into a stand-off because of basic disagreements about the role of individuals, families, institutions and the government in today’s society. These entrenched partisan positions make it difficult to negotiate usefully about an entire range of urban phenomena from acceptable behavior in public places to the rise of gated communities or from the gentrification of central city neighborhoods to the privatization of basic infrastructure.
In some ways this binary opposition of private vs. public has obscured a central fact about life in the mixed economic and political system in which we live. Our current notions about what is or should be public or private are relatively recent and based on assumptions that are constantly changing. It is also the case that the line between the two is much more blurred than the usual debates would suggest. After all, in Western democracies, most adult citizens are consumers in the market at the same time as they are voters and actors in the public sphere. Even with a given individual the interests are often contradictory and changing. It is not surprising, then, that debates based on the assumption of sharp distinction between public and private are often frustrating and unproductive, particularly in a fast changing world.
The battles between private and public transportation provide an excellent example of the way that doctrinaire notions impede progress toward useful solutions. Let’s take an historical example. In many cities around the country in the early 20th century private rail companies ran streetcar lines under a franchise from local governments. In the 1910s, quite unexpectedly, there appeared a competitor to these municipally regulated monopolies. Owners of private automobiles started to offer rides to passengers, often along the same route as the streetcars. At first these so-called jitney drivers were only a nuisance for the rail operators, but in short order they became a major threat because they offered a more comfortable and cheaper ride and, because they were not obliged to follow fixed routes or make fixed stops, they were often considerably faster and more convenient for riders.
If the streetcar operators had been making a healthy profit they probably could simply have undercut the jitney operator in cost. However, many of these companies had been created in part to help make new areas of the city accessible and thereby help sales of real estate owned by company officers. When these real estate sales declined once the land adjacent to the rail lines was developed and certain lines proved unprofitable, they were often unable to discontinue those lines because of requirements by local governments to maintain service. That, in turn, gave them little incentive to keep their tracks in good repair or to provide enough vehicles to avoid overcrowding.
Faced with this inherent problem and potentially disastrous competition, the streetcar operators turned to local governments for help. They argued that the jitney service benefited from the fact that it was unregulated and that it was cherry-picking customers from the most profitable routes without the burden of providing service for the entire region. They further argued that the jitney drivers were unlicensed and potentially unsafe. In the end, most municipal governments around the country established regulations, ostensibly for public protection, that made most jitney service uneconomic. The number of jitneys declined precipitously and they no longer were able to compete directly with the railroad companies. Of course, the railroad companies’ problems went deeper than the competition from jitneys. The episode was an important demonstration of the advantages to them offered by rubber wheeled vehicles on public right of way and they soon switched to buses. Even so, the inherent problems of making a profit on a highly regulated monopoly eventually led to the eventual demise of every one of the private surface lines and the assumption of their routes by public agencies.
Now, in this episode, was the defeat of the jitneys and victory of the streetcar monopolies a triumph of the public interests or a defeat? To answer that question you would have to start with another one: Where did private interest lie and where public interest? It would seem that answering that question, in turn, would entirely depend on which private interests and which public interests we are talking about in a situation where the very distinction between the two turns out to be quite blurred.
Let’s fast forward to today. We may well be on the verge of a very similar episode. Today most American cities have public monopolies responsible for running public transit, which today is primarily buses and trains. A great many planners and scholars have been arguing strenuously for decades that the automobile has been a deleterious element in urban development, that the push for roads and parking has destroyed central cities, that the enhanced mobility has allowed middle class residents to flee city centers, taking their civic involvement and tax dollars with them, and that the growth of urban sprawl has destroyed farmland, greatly increased the demand for a limited supply of energy and has contributed to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Many of these individuals see this as the triumph of private interests over the collective public interest. They call for measures that would limit the use of private automobiles and boost ridership of public transportation. They would do this by redistributing money that now goes to roads and highways to public transportation systems. They also advocate for land use laws that would boost densities in order to make public transportation more efficient.
The irony in all this is that this dichotomy between small, private vehicles and large, collective public vehicles, may turn out to be an anomaly, an artifact of a particular moment of urban development between the middle of the 19th and the end of the 20th century. Many of the arguments put forward in this debate are already outmoded. For example, even today the private automobile has become so much more efficient that it uses less energy and emits less greenhouse gas per vehicle mile traveled than the transit bus which is the dominant mode of public transit in the country today. Of course, because the private automobile is generally much faster than public transportation, it has allowed citizens to travel longer distances. Nevertheless, that has not translated into low-density settlement being necessarily more energy intensive than high density settlement.
Furthermore, if we assume for a moment that the trend toward energy efficiency and alternative energy sources continues, we can easily imagine a future not far off when these issues will recede. At that point, the debate can move back to the fundamental issue of how to transport the most passengers in the most efficient, most comfortable and least expensive way.
It appears unlikely that the bus and the railroad train, two big box 19th century transportation solutions, are likely to increase their market share. Instead, an entire range of smaller, personal vehicles running on alternative fuels with built-in navigation devices could well allow for much faster and safer travel on existing infrastructure that will be able to handle an enormously increased amount of traffic. With the advent of shared vehicles and driverless vehicles, it is also possible that most urban dwellers won’t need or want their own vehicles but will summon electronically an appropriately sized vehicle for the purpose at hand, eliminating a vast amount of parking. This would be a true public transportation system but the vehicles would look a lot more like automobiles than buses or trains. It is also likely that the system would be mostly privately owned and operated although with extensive public regulation.
Now, of course, there are enormous hurdles to achieving any of this. And there will be problems, probably problems as important as the ones that we face with our transportation options today.
However, this scenario, as with the jitney episode, does suggest three things. The first is that trying to rebuild our cities at the densities of 19th century industrial cities in order to make public transit work, is probably short-sighted and counter-productive. A second is that, as with the jitney episode, what is public and what is private is a very fluid and often even contradictory thing. The final thing is that debates of this kind often lead to sub-optimal solutions. Certainly to date the big debate between private and public transportation in cities has not helped a situation where neither the private nor the public entities has been able or willing to invest in the kind of infrastructure that the country needs to remain competitive and increase productivity.
About the Author
Robert Bruegmann is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History, Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago.